Celtics Insider

Blakely: Celtics must find their identity to get back in the ECF

Celtics Insider

The Boston Celtics took the day off in dealing with the media on Friday. 

That’s probably a good thing.

Right now is not the time to talk about what they are going to do or want to do going forward in their Eastern Conference finals matchup with the Miami Heat following a Game 2 loss that puts them in a 2-0 series deficit. 

No one is disputing that -- as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn reported -- tempers flared Thursday night after Boston’s Game 2 loss.

But one source within the bubble told NBC Sports Boston that the emotions of Thursday night are “water under the bridge now” as the team prepares for a must-win Game 3 on Saturday. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Celtics head coach Brad Stevens met with the team’s leaders late Thursday night to “work through the emotions of post-Game 2 locker room.”

As much as the Celtics would love for all the attention to be focused on what’s ahead, it’s impossible to do that without acknowledging how they got in this predicament. 

For most of the season, the Celtics have been an equal opportunity winner with contributions toward success coming from many, often in similar doses. 

A big game from Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker one night didn’t look all that different from a breakout showing from Jaylen Brown or Gordon Hayward the next. 

 

But there was always a feeling of uncertainty as to how this team would respond to real, season-changing adversity. 

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Who would step up and lead? Who would they count on to provide that below-the-radar but necessary play? Could Brad Stevens put the right players in the right positions at the right time with the season on the line? 

Before the Miami series, the Celtics by and large managed to do all those things when they absolutely had to. 

That’s where they are now. Game 3 isn’t about being better than they were in Game 2. It’s about getting a win by any means necessary.

Nothing short of that at this point is acceptable unless they have embraced the notion that this series and their season is over.  Judging by the way they have played for long stretches of Games 1 and 2, that doesn’t seem to be the case. 

But there’s no question the Celtics are in fact-finding mode as to who they need to be to beat the Heat. 

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The deeper you get into a season and the playoffs, the harder winning becomes if you continue to stick with an egalitarian approach to playing the game the way Boston does. 

You can find success playing that way, but that success has its limitations. And we’re seeing that right now.

Winning deep into the playoffs has been and will always be, about your stars. 

They take the big shots. They make the “instant classic” plays on defense. They sometimes shrink in the moment if they 1) aren’t ready or 2) take their opponent lightly. 

So where are the Celtics? All the above. Which is why Thursday night's dust-up Thursday night was needed. This team as it stands now lacks a true identity. 

Will their best player (Jayson Tatum) be the one to get them out of this malaise? Or is the “heart and soul” of the team, Marcus Smart, the one to lead the troops?

What about Brown, who seems to be an afterthought most of the game on the offensive side of the floor; that is, until the Celtics get in a pinch and need his shot-making when the game seems all but lost.

Walker had a nice Game 2, but he has had too many terrible games in the playoffs. And so far in this series, Miami’s Goran Dragic has won the point guard battle, easily, with no real signs that Walker will turn that around anytime soon. 

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It just feels that in Boston’s pursuit of answers towards turning this series around, more and more questions are created by the Celtics in their play and their action -- or rather lack of action -- when the games are being played. 

 

That’s why the brouhaha after Game 2 was needed. Dwelling on why they didn’t bring that kind of anger and energy to either Games 1 or 2 is pointless now. The point is, we now know that it’s there. 

They care about finding a way to get back into a series in which they have outscored Miami in five of the eight quarters of play (that doesn’t include the overtime session in which Miami won 11-8) and at worst should be tied at 1-1. 

We’re going to find out what the Celtics are really made of in Game 3. 

Because the bickering of the moment has in many respects drowned out the messaging that this team has been trying to get across to the masses all season: that they are connected in a way to withstand and when pressed, overcome adversity when it inevitably shows up. 

It’s not at their front door, folks. Adversity has taken a big fat squat in their living room, because now it’s personal. 

The struggles aren’t just about what’s happening between those lines.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Celtics blow 17-point lead to Heat in Game 2; locker room gets heated following the loss | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Concerns about the team culture maybe not being as tightly wound as we have been led to believe are legit. Concerns about Brown and Smart co-existing when it comes to competing at the highest level are legit. 

Stevens making the right in-game adjustments, some as big as who to play and others not-so-big -- such as when to and when not to challenge a questionable call by the officials -- are all legit topics of discussion. 

There’s only one way that they can fix all this: Win. This. Series. 

Of course, they have to get Game 3 first. They know this. 

But if that victory is followed by a couple of Heat wins which would end Boston’s season, all those concerns that have come to light within the last 24 hours about this team, its identity, and the level of connectivity they have with one another, won’t leave the bubble when they do. 

It becomes the narrative for how their season will be viewed: one that will began with such promise but ended unfulfilled.